John Wesley Day

On this day, 24 May, in 1738 a man named John Wesley had a profound experience that changed his life – and arguably transformed the Church as well.

Wesley was an Anglican priest. He was a fervent preacher, but he was lacking in faith and growing in misery.

A spark of life began however when Wesley led a prisoner to Christ by preaching a gospel of faith and forgiveness, and he saw a man instantly transformed. His more enthusiastic Moravian friends encouraged him to have faith and to expect transformation and assurance.

On the morning of May 24, 1738, he opened his Bible to read the words: ‘There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.’

That evening, a still depressed Wesley ‘unwillingly’ attended a Christian meeting in Aldersgate, London. There he heard a reading from the Reformer Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. At about 8.45 pm, as he heard Luther’s words, something deep and dramatic took place.

In Wesley’s words: ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

Wesley went on with his brother Charles to pioneer the radical movement of Methodism, spreading evangelical revival across the country and the world. It probably would never have happened were it not for his ‘Aldersgate experience’.

The strange warming of the heart has become emblematic for many interpreting their own spiritual experiences. It emphasises the importance of true conversion, the possibility of deep assurance and the power of an experiential salvation.

Since Methodism wouldn’t be what it is without Aldersgate, today is celebrated across the Methodist Church.

John Wesley used to say that he thought very little of a man who did not pray four hours every day. He would rise up at 4am every day to seek God for the first four hours of the day. In his later years Wesley was known to spend up to 8 hours in prayer.

Here is John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

A special liturgical prayer for the day reads:

‘Almighty God, in a time of great need you raised up your servants John and Charles Wesley, and by your Spirit inspired them to kindle a flame of sacred love which leaped and ran, an inextinguishable blaze. Grant that all those whose hearts have been warmed at these altar fires, being continually refreshed by your grace, may be so devoted to the increase of scriptural holiness throughout the land that in this our time of great need, your will may fully and effectively be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

(text from Christian Today)


Fasting for good

Archdeacon Sue Jacka is the Rector of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Morwell, in Gippsland.

Sue is taking part in the Act for Peace Ration Challenge, 19th-25th June 2022. Act for Peace is the international humanitarian agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

Sue is part of Gippsland Anglicans for Refugees. She writes:

‘I’ve decided to do it again! With the Ukrainian refugee crisis there are even more refugees across the world. This challenge is very tough – for one complete week I will eat only what comes in the refugee rations just like those distributed to people who have fled their homes. It’s mainly rice and sooo boring! Will you please sponsor me and help refugees get some food, sanitary items and medical supplies?’

(The Ration Challenge website says that more than 84 million people have fled their homes worldwide because of conflict or disaster, and that number is rising. The United Nations refugee agency says conflict and disasters have now driven a record 100 million from their homes – the war in Ukraine has added significantly to the total with 8 million displaced within the country and 6 million forced to leave the nation).

Perhaps you might like to sponsor Sue, or someone else doing the Act for Peace Ration Challenge or consider doing this yourself (or join a team for solidarity!). The more sponsors, the more ‘rewards’ the person receives (eg spices, a little protein etc)

Many years ago, Geoff and I used to host a multi-faith group of young people (mainly international tertiary students) in our home for meals from time to time. On one occasion, the question was asked of a young Muslim woman: why do you fast in Ramadan? The response – in part – was: so that we know what it’s like to go without food, and will grow more compassion and empathy and care for others who live with deprivation all the time. And at the end of Ramadan, she said, they are encouraged to give money to a charity of their choice as an expression of that compassionate care.

‘The basic teaching of all religions is to develop a relationship with God and fasting is one way of achieving it because when we fast, we remember the blessing of life which we normally take for granted and sympathise with the sufferings of those who sleep on an empty stomach every day. This way we can become more compassionate towards our fellow human beings who might not enjoy the basic necessities of life’. (Prachi Wakpaijan)

‘During the Ramadan fast, we especially feel connected to the many in our neighbourhood who go without food because of poverty… When we break our fast in the evening, we make sure that we share our food with our neighbours. If one of our neighbours has nothing, we gladly share with them.” (Fatuma, a single mother of 9 children, Kenya – in online news snippet on Fasting for Solidarity)

Fasting is a spiritual endeavour in almost all religions all over the world. The idea of ’embodying’ deprivation for a time that would in turn grow compassion for, and solidarity with, those who is a really important concept. Indeed it has theological implications – taking on the experience of another’s lived reality. The Message Bible translates John 1.14 this way, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”. Jesus took on our flesh, lived in our reality, to show us the way to live – to love God, and love neighbour as ourselves.

‘Within the same family, can some members eat their fill while their brothers and sisters are excluded from the table? To think of those who suffer is not enough. A conversion of heart calls us to add fasting to our prayer, and to fill with God’s love the efforts that the demands of justice towards neighbour inspire us to make’.
(Pope John Paul 11)

Reflecting on Isaiah 58:1-9, Pope Francis reflects: “the Lord explains what true fasting is to these people who complained: ‘This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the poor and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. I want this, this is the fasting that I wish’”.



This week, Australia acknowledges Sorry Day (May 26th), and begins National Reconciliation Week (NRW), 27th May – 3rd June. NRW begins with the anniversary of the 1967 referendum (27th May) and finishes with Mabo Day (the anniversary of the High Court decision that recognised the pre-colonial land interests of Aboriginal and Islander peoples within Australia’s common law).

These are significant dates for First Nations Peoples as well as Second Peoples in Australia. They are dates that should also be significant for churches.

Recommended resources
Statement from the Heart website
Statement from the Heart resources (study guide, facilitator’s guide produced by the Vic/Tas UCA Synod)
Our Vision for a Just Australia: A First Peoples Heart (UCA)
A voice in the wilderness 8 part study guide (free downloadable PDF) written by Celia Kemp, Anglican Board of Mission’s Reconciliation Coordinator. As well there is a leader’s guide

This commendation of ‘A Voice in the Wilderness’ from Archbishop Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop, Melbourne:
“Celia Kemp’s fine work, bringing as it does so clearly the voices of indigenous elders and leaders, resonates with the Bible’s call to reconciliation: ‘to be neighbour’ – genuinely and deeply to one another. This excellent study is a gift to the whole church”.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday night, the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese began his speech by committing his Government to the Uluru Statement – in full:
‘On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We can answer its patient, gracious call for a voice enshrined in our Constitution because all of us ought to be proud, that amongst our great multicultural society, we count the oldest living continuous culture in the world’.

This week marks five years since Indigenous people from across the nation gathered at Uluru to come to a consensus position on the best way to change the Constitution to bridge the divides between black and white Australia.

In summary, the Statement addresses the Australian people and calls for constitutional change and meaningful, structural reform based on justice and self-determination for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Australians have been calling for a voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution with a body to sit outside the Parliament, to give frank input on policies designed to address this country’s sustained failure to close the gap. The Statement calls for a Makarrata commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth telling.

The Statement says these reforms are necessarily sequential: a Voice first, then Treaty and Truth.

(Note: The Statement was agreed to be consensus by those who gathered at Uluru, but not all Aboriginal people support it).

The creators of the Uluru Statement have said “history is calling” the next parliament to take action. Albanese has vowed to hold a referendum during his first term, and has said he will ‘reach across the aisle’ because ‘historically, to get constitutional change, you need bipartisan support’. He said he will attempt to find common ground and shift conservative opposition to a referendum on the Voice.

There is majority support in the community for a referendum. This issue may be the defining debates of Australia’s 47th Parliament.

(The last referendum to consider changing the Constitution was in 1999 regarding whether Australia should cut ties with the monarchy to become a republic).

Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney has been re-elected and will be Labor’s Indigenous Affairs Minister. She will be the first Aboriginal woman to be Indigenous affairs minister. Ms Burney grew up in a small NSW town. Her commitment to Aboriginal affairs spans more than 30 years, was the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW Parliament, serving as NSW Deputy Labor Leader and a former Shadow Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs. She is the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives.

She has said, ‘Recognition in the Constitution is about that document telling the truth and reflecting the extraordinary inheritance we all have as Australians with the length of time humanity has been in this country. It’s about removing the race powers out of the Constitution – those powers are not just about Aboriginal people. The Australian Constitution actually allows the Australian Government to make laws that could be detrimental to a particular race or people’.

Speaking about the outcome of the elections she said, ‘This is an exercise in nation-building, and this will change Australia. It’s just so exciting’.

There are several other Indigenous women elected including Senator Dorinda Cox (Greens, WA); Malarndirri McCarthy (Labor) and Jacinata Nampijinpa Price (Country Liberals Party) are expected to win the Northern Territory’s two Senate spots; and Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens, Victoria)



One of the groups that VCC connects with is Faith Communities Council of Victoria. In fact, the VCC is the peak body for the Christian churches relating to the FCCV. The FCCV aims to promote a harmonious Victoria.

The new VCC EO Sandy Boyce enjoyed a great introductory (Zoom) conversation with FCCV Multifaith Officer Sandy Kouroupidis and Bhakta Dasa (Chair, FCCV, and representing the Hindu Council of Australia – Victoria).

The FCCV, established in 2010, is Victoria’s umbrella multi-faith body which does really important work, especially engaging with Government, and bringing together faith communities in Victoria. FCCV was created to contribute to the harmony of the Victorian community by promoting positive relations between people of different faiths and greater public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, customs and practices of Victoria’s diverse faith traditions. There are 32 suburban and regional interfaith networks in Victoria.

Sandy K also shared a news story published in The Age (Dec 2021) about the interfaith Ashram where he lives, along with founder Fr John Dupuche, and others. It’s a great story about living the interfaith story in community. Here’s an edited version of the article:

On a bend of the Yarra River, more than an hour’s drive from Melbourne and far from the polarised world of social media, pandemic politics and policy schisms, sits a group comprising what must be one of Australia’s most unusual religious communes.

The rollcall of residents sounds like the beginning of an old joke: a Catholic priest and classical tantra meditation expert, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Yogi (walk into a bar…). They spend every night debating the meaning of life and some have been doing so for seven years.

Their ashram, near Warburton, 90 minutes east of Melbourne, was set up by Father John Dupuche as a multi-faith community of debate, humour and celebration of difference.

Father John, who has a PhD in Sanskrit, lives with five others who have studied and practised Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions, Tibetan and Theravadan Buddhism, Classical Yoga and Vipassana, Western Philosophy, Kashmir Shaivism, and Sunni Islam.

Among them 12 languages are spoken – Greek, French, German, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Latin, Romanian, Urdu, Indonesian, Maltese and English.

The six residents, most who have jobs and all contribute financially, share a house but spend their time doing their individual practices in their room or in meditation huts overlooking the river. Days are spent in solitude or working together around the farm.

Every night, the motley congregation meditate together then read from a different sacred text before they share dinner and debate, each coming from their own spiritual perspective.

In some ways it’s an anti-cult, or perhaps a cult for contrarians, for a requirement of membership is that you hold different views to any of the other residents. This is a haven where disagreement is celebrated.

The curious grouping is the antithesis of so much of what plays out in the modern world, where everyone has an opinion but it seems many have lost the ability to tolerate opposing views.

Father John, who lectures in spirituality, meditation and interfaith relations at the University of Divinity, says: “The diversity enables us to meet at depth … when both eyes look at a pot they don’t see the same – only with both can you perceive depth.”

This hermitude and “table fellowship” perhaps offers lessons to those who find themselves in social media echo chambers where everyone agrees with each other and affirms their membership by condemning, or cancelling, anyone who disagrees.

“When a person is secure in themselves they are not threatened by a different point of view,” Father John says.


Life is fragile

A trip to the supermarket is the most ordinary of experiences. It is deeply shocking to read of yet another hate-fuelled violent gun tragedy, this time at a busy supermarket in America, perpetrated by an 18 year old who had published a 180 page long online document riddled with racist, antisemitic and white supremacist beliefs including the ‘great replacement theory‘. He drove 300+km to carry out his evil crime, copying some of the methodology of the shooter in the NZ mosque tragedy including live-streaming it all.
The mass shooting at the supermarket is the latest in a painful litany of violence driven by hate and racism, fuelled by racially motivated violent extremism. Eleven of the 13 people shot were black.

…. A 77 year old grandmother who volunteered every weekend at her church’s food pantry and viewed volunteering as part of her religious duty. An 86 year old who was a devoted caregiver, the ‘rock of her family’, spending each day taking care of her husband of 68 years at the nursing home where he resides. She would cut his hair, iron his clothes, dress him and shave him. Her son said, ‘She was his angel. I’m very thankful for the example she set for us of how to love each other unconditionally’. A 53 year old going to the shops to get a birthday cake. A selfless, generous, loving father and grandfather who used to check in on everyone. A 55 year old retired police officer and amateur inventor who tried to stop the shooter. He had been working part-time on a project to build cars with engines that run on clean energy using hydrogen-electrolysis, a process that splits water molecules into hydrogen and water. A 32 year old who moved home to be closer to her elder brother to help care for his 4 children as he underwent treatment for leukaemia. A 72 year old, the ‘glue in her family’, who was a well-known community figure who would cut the grass in the local park, give kids on the street toys, and help anyone she could….

Lives ended tragically by hate fuelled violence.

Reflecting on this from a distance, thousands of miles across the ocean in another continent, where gun violence of this kind is (thankfully) rare, I reflect on the necessity to build social cohesion and invest in initiatives that build social capital. The Australian Human Rights Commission defines social cohesion in the context of a society that ‘works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility’.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has posed the challenging question about whether it’s possible for democratic societies to ‘contain diverse populations while still maintaining harmony’. It is interesting also to consider the impact of the pandemic on the ways and places in which people interact. Early evidence suggests that bridges between groups are weakening, as the closure of key pillars of public life, including schools and libraries, reduced casual encounters that once fostered connection between disparate groups. Instead, interactions have been concentrated within existing networks.

The Victorian Council of Churches has an important role to play in contributing to social cohesion and social capital, by continuing to work together to build ecumenical and inter-faith partnerships, and strengthening relationships that transcend racial, cultural and even religious boundaries. We need to be convinced that this commitment will strengthen trust and understanding and resolve, and build a movement towards the promised realm of peace and God’s shalom. As a human community, we are related to one another as we participate in the oikoumene of the Creator.

Social cohesion in Australia continues to be embedded in traditional multiculturalism. It is yet to catch up with the digital world and online ‘echo chambers’ where cyberhate, foreign interference and violent extremism thrive. The digital world can quickly desensitise individuals to violent messages and extreme ideology and imagery.  Disinformation and cyber-enabled foreign interference target the fissures of social cohesion in democracies.

In our highly individualized and culturally diverse society there is an urgent need for a new form of solidarity to build social cohesion, to recognise what we share in common as well as what is distinctive, to recognise the history that has shaped culture and community today.

A few weeks ago the Victorian Jewish community hosted a solemn online remembrance of Yom Hashoah, a day when the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized. It was a very moving presentation. Next week is Sorry Day (26th May), which was one of the 54 recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report (many of which were never implemented). The report concluded that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have endured gross violations of their human rights. These violations continue to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples daily lives. They were an act of genocide, aimed at wiping out indigenous families, communities, and cultures, vital to the precious and inalienable heritage of Australia”.

These ‘special days’ in the calendar like Yom Hashoah and Sorry Day invite us to lament, but also to garner resolve to be agents of change in the world, to be reconcilers because we ourselves have been reconciled with God, to be peacemakers following the example of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. What we do matters, both in the immediate and in the transcendent understandings of time. This is what people of faith call hope. We will affirm God’s call to us to be those who protect the lives of all within the human community, since each is loved by God, and each should be able to find a place of belonging in God’s reign of peace.

May it be so!

(Rev Sandy Boyce, VCC EO, 17th May 2022)

A few prayers as part of reflecting on the gun tragedy, and a song by Sting….

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are (Music and lyrics by Sting)

Prayer for the shooting
(first we mourn, then we must act)
God, we are broken psalmists
for weeping came in the night
and more weeping comes in the morning.
We lift up in sorrow
all of those affected by the gun tragedy.
Wrap your tenderness around
those who mourn
those who have already died,
those who are wounded.
Hold them in your embrace,
shelter them in your resurrection,
sit with families
in intensive care and in funeral homes,
hold the flood of tears,
angry words, angry even at you,
loss it will take years to comfort.
Then teach us how to change
this culture of guns,
not by our despair
but by courage and resistance,
so that we may rise to a new morning,
and walk into a day of hope. Amen.
(Source: Maren C. Tirabassi, Gifts in Open Hands, adapted)

A prayer in response to violence
O God of deep compassion and abounding mercy, in whose trust is our perfect peace: Draw near to us in this time of anguish, anxiety and anger, receive the dead into your eternal care, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are wounded or in despair, turn our anger into the conviction to act, channel our passion to end our dependence on violence for our sense of security, and lead us all to greater trust in you and in your image found in the entire human family. Through Jesus the Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns among us eternally. Amen.
(Source: Rev Michael W Hopkins, adapted)

SONG: When Human Voices Cannot Sing
1. When human voices cannot sing
and human hearts are breaking,
we bring our grief to you, O God
who knows our inner aching.

2. Set free our spirits from all fear –
the cloud of dark unknowing,
and let the light, the Christ-light show
the pathway of our going.
(Words: Shirley Murray, (*v 3&4 omitted); tune: St Columba


Hearty thanks to Ian

At the VCC AGM on Saturday 14th May, hearty thanks were extended to Rev Ian Smith for his contribution to VCC over many years.

Rev Ian Smith, VCC EO for 10 years

Thanks were expressed to Ian by Ashok Jacob (currently serving as Treasurer), who spoke about Ian’s long and steadfast service for many years. Ian’s contribution is many and varied.

Ian currently serves as Chair of VCC EM, and was involved right from the start. Under his leadership VCCEM became a separate entity.

Ian joined with other Abrahamic faiths to organise faith tours to Jerusalem.

Ashok noted Ian is extremely good with relationships; he values people, makes people comfortable, is a good networker, offers warm friendship, and is available to people at all times. He is humble and approachable, including with small diaspora churches. Ian is extremely passionate about gospel of justice and peace.

On behalf of the Council, Ashok thanked Ian for his great contribution to VCC, and highlighted the gift Ian has been to the churches in Victoria. Ashok also thanked Ian for his friendship. 

In response, Ian said he was deeply humbled. He acknowledged Robert Gribben who was a mentor to him in the ecumenical movement. Ian quoted 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some”, to comment on his capacity to communicate across the broad spectrum of the Christian Church as well as to participate in a range of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues and activities at State level with government.

In the conclusion of his written report, Ian wrote:

“This is my last report. It seemed right to both myself and the Standing Committee that 2021 would see the completion of my time in leadership with the VCC. These past 8 years as Executive Officer have been a humbling and rewarding time as I have had the privilege to meet, share and worship with our great family of our God in all our colours, shapes, traditions and understandings”.

“My time with VCC in general encompasses some 30 years, initially as a delegate and Commission member, then as a member of the Executive of Council, now called the Standing Committee. I have served as both a Vice President and as President. During these last 8 years, I have learnt much as I have worked alongside you all and am deeply grateful for the richness of the gift of the breadth and depth I have come to know, appreciate and celebrate as the Body of Christ, the visible expression of the Kingdom here on earth. It’s my prayer that in some tangible ways I have been able to enrich this journey and experience for others”.

“It would be remiss of me not to note my deep appreciation of the leadership of all the presidents I have worked with, Mrs Joan Pye, Monsignor Peter Kenny, Pastor Gordon Wegener, Archdeacon Philip Newman, Major Kerryn Roberts, Rev Jason Kioa, Mr Frank Stuart, Mr Ashok Jacob, Bishop Peter Danaher, Fr Shenouda Boutros and most recently Dr Graeme Blackman. Their wisdom, grace, humour and tenacity have enabled VCC and myself to undertake ministry through these past years. Apologies to anyone I have overlooked”.

“I too note the privilege of working with the General Secretaries of my time; Rev Doug Dargaville, Rev Robert Gribben, Rev Hamish Christie-Johnson, Ms Maureen Postma, Mr Theo Mackaay. Each brought their unique contributions and insights and encouraged me in my ecumenical journey”.

“Finally, let me say a big thank you to our Standing Committee members; they have given of themselves in many ways to ensure the ongoing ability of the VCC to continue to enable the church’s life and witness within the State of Victoria”.

“To all associated with VCC, thank you. To work with so many wonderful Christians seeking a clearer expression of the unified body of our Lord, leads me to constantly giving thanks for the graciousness, creativity and generosity of God’s people”.

The new VCC EO Sandy Boyce offered a prayer for Ian.

Loving God, we pray for Ian as he concludes his ministry with the Victorian Council of Churches, and give thanks for his long engagement with the work of VCC over the last 30 years. We give thanks for the work he has done among us, as Executive Officer and as a steward of the mission and ministry of the VCC. We give thanks for his enthusiasm, his capacity to build relationships, his commitment to the vision of unity. We give thanks also for his leadership of VCC Emergency Ministries. As his term of service with VCC ends, we pray a blessing on him. Refresh him and renew him in your love and joy and goodness. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Ian and Karen have moved to a rural property in Gippsland where Ian has accepted a supply ministry in a UCA parish. There will no doubt be fresh opportunities for Ian to engage with ecumenical activities. 


His Holiness Mar Awa 111

On Tuesday 10th May 2022, a luncheon was held in honour of the first visit to Australia of His Holiness Mar Awa 111, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. He is also the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch of the East Apostolic See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. He is a first-generation Assyrian-American. At 16, he was ordained as a sub-deacon, and the following year became a deacon. He was ordained by Mar Dinkha IV. On 30 November 2008, he was elevated to the rank of Bishop, taking the name Mar Awa Royel (in Assyrian, Awa means father). He became the first American-born Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East.

His Holiness Mar Awa III, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

As Bishop, Mar Awa made many attempts to raise awareness for the plight of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, especially the dire situation facing Christian minority communities in Iraq and Syria, and those living along the Khabour River in NE Syria, where the terrorist organization ISIL attacked in late February 2015, and led to thousands of displaced people and a hostage crisis.

On 8th September 2021, Bishop Mar Awa was elected as the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch to the apostolic see of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and was consecrated in Iraq on 13 September 2021 which is also the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Catholicos-Patriarch is now permanently located in Erbil (KRG), Iraq.

The luncheon in honour of Mar Awa 111 was MC’d by Cr Joseph Haweil. He was a wonderful host, along with clergy and youthful members of the Assyrian Church of the East in Victoria. The welcome and hospitality extended was particularly noteworthy.

The Victorian Council of Churches was represented by the Executive Officer, Rev Sandy Boyce.

His Holiness Mar Awa 111 at the luncheon, His Grace Mar Abris Youkhana and His Grace Mar Benyamin Elya, along with VCC EO Rev Sandy Boyce.

Distinguished guests included:

His Grace Mar Abris Youkhana, Bishop of Kirkuk and Diana – Assyrian Church of the East

His Grace Mar Benyamin Elya, Bishop of Victoria and New Zealand – Assyrian Church of the East.

Hon Ros Spence MP, Minister for Multicultural Affairs (and other portfolios) and State Member for Yuroke

Mr Andrew Giles, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Shadow Minister Assisting for Immigration and Citizenship (and one other portfolio) and Federal Member for Scullin

Mrs Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell

His Grace Bishop Evmenios of Kerasounta, Archdiocesan Vicar for the District of Northcote and Assistant Bishop to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

The Catholic Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Fr Denis Stanley EV, Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The Anglican Church was represented by the Rt Rev’d Bishop Paul White, Anglican Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Archpriest Dr Peter A.L.Hill, Director of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Institute. (Since 2016, Mar Awa 111 has been co-chair of the Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East).

The guest list was impressive!

Distinguished guests were invited to make short speeches, with a keynote address by His Holiness Mar Awa 111.

(more photos and information on a post about the event, on the Assyrian Church Vic NZ Facebook page)

The Assyrian Church of the East has a long history, dating back to the apostolic age. A fascinating and informative overview of the history of the Assyrian Church of the East can be read here. Definitely worth a read!

A summary account of the last century is also revelatory. The Assyrian Church and Nation suffered greatly at the hands of the Muslim powers during WW1. In 1918, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun XIX (1887-1918) was martyred by the Kurdish chieftain Ismail Agha (Simko), and the Assyrians were left at the mercy of the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish neighbors. With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians were left without a homeland of their own and the promises of the Western superpowers were forgotten and left unfulfilled. In 1920, the majority of the Assyrians were moved to the Bakuba Camp near Baghdad, being moved from Urmia, Iran. They lived in horrible, sub-human conditions; tens of thousands lost their lives along the way to Bakuba from 1918 to 1920.

Successively, the Assyrian people were able to recover themselves after the creation of the independent state of Iraq, however, without any claim to the land and home of their ancient ancestors. Later, in 1933 another wave of atrocities were perpetrated against the Assyrians of Iraq, this time on the part of the Iraqi monarchy. A group of Assyrians were forced to take refuge in the then-French colony of Syria. A confrontation with Iraqi forces caused the death of some few thousands of Assyrians. The late Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), patriarch of the Assyrian Church, was exiled along with the patriarchal household after the 1933 massacre and settled for a time on the Island of Cyprus by the British.

The patriarch then moved to the US, settling first in Chicago, in 1940. From then on, the seat of the catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church would remain in the diaspora.

The early 1970’s and 1990’s – after the first Gulf War – saw a great wave of migration of Assyrians from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. These migrations included the establishment of a large Assyrian diaspora predominantly in the United States and also in Europe.

In 1975, the patriarchal see became vacant with the death of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. The Assyrian bishops gathered in London, England in 1976 and elected a new patriarch who took the name of Mar Dinkha IV, the then bishop of Iran. (Mar Dinkha IV presided over the ordination of Mar Awa 111). The newly elected patriarch made immediate contact with the Assyrians living in the countries of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon soon after his election. The patriarchal see was moved to Chicago in 1980.

The great majority of the Assyrians are to be found in the diaspora rather than in their ancestral homeland of Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq. Centuries of persecution and forced migration have decimated the once-numerous populace, however the community continues to preserve its ancient history and heritage.

Today, the descendants of the ancient Assyrians who populated the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ are found all over the globe including in Australia.


Inclusive Narrative project

The Creating an Inclusive Narrative project has published its findings. It is the culmination of a national conversation that aimed to:

* advance the discourse on social cohesion by re-examining prevailing conceptions underpinning human nature and society and articulating constructive characteristics that can draw us closer to realising our common humanity, unify thoughts and actions, facilitate harmonious interactions, increase inclusion and a sense of belonging. It will seek to bring together representatives from a broad array of backgrounds, perspectives and sections of society and envisions the engagement in dialogue will be a unifying process in itself.

* synthesise the most prevalent and unifying insights, ideas and descriptions of our common identity and shared values which can move us towards strengthening social cohesion and inclusion in our country. A formal document will be produced, which will be offered to our country as a resource and framework for social endeavours. It can be utilised to foster an ongoing conversation at the grassroots to national levels of society, encourage and motivate neighbourly interactions, and contribute towards the thinking which shapes and inspires community projects, government policy and public opinion.

The publication of the project is now available for download! It is the culmination of fifty nationwide round tables held over the past year. The publication captures the insights and experience distilled from hundreds of roundtable participants, representing communities and groups of all kinds. It conveys the vision, hopes and aspirations of Australians to foster a socially cohesive society. It describes a narrative of our past and current reality, but also a narrative of the future – the kind of society participants envision for generations to come.

This publication is a gift from the Australian Baha’i community to Australian society. It is the sincere hope of those involved in this consultative process that its findings and content are helpful and applicable in every neighbourhood, community, organisation, institution and in government.

Access the Creating an Inclusive Narrative Publication here.

News Sandy's Comments

Zadok Papers

The Autumn 2022 issue of Zadok Perspectives and Papers is on ‘Public Speaking’. Though basically intra-Christian, includes a fine article by famed Jewish ABC broadcaster Rachael Kohn in dialogue with a range of religious authors on Fear and Faith, reviving the notion that if you fear God you need fear no other. And Megan Powell-du Toit’s imagery of Jesus’ death tearing the Temple curtain of Jew-Gentile, priestly-lay and male-female divides has powerful public impact. We have a finely nuanced review essay by Nathan Campbell on Stephen McAlpine’s Being the Good Bad Guys, which deservedly won the Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. McAlpine critiques the Missional Church movement from which he comes, for expecting that once the barbaric cultural and colonial barnacles of Christendom were cleared from its hull it would be allowed fair passage and mooring rights into now secularised harbours, cities, universities and media. (And much more – read more here).

(adapted from the Ethos blog article by Gordon Preece)

News Sandy's Comments


7th May is World Labyrinth Day. It is an annual event sponsored by The Labyrinth Society as a worldwide action to “walk as one at 1” local time to create a rolling wave of peaceful energy across the globe.

Every year on the first Saturday in May (in 2022 it will be 7th May), thousands of people around the world participate in this moving meditation for world peace.

In this time of war and conflict in so many countries, perhaps making space for intentional walking for peace may be a small but positive response to our fractured world. If there’s no labyrinth close to you, consider a ‘slow mindful walk’ instead.

Inner peace, outer peace.

Labyrinths in Melbourne and Victoria

Labyrinth prayer – a brief history
In A.D. 324 Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church in Algiers. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians have sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.

Using the labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus. All you have to do is follow the path and you will find the center. Unlike a maze the labyrinth has no tricks in it. A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing oneself at the threshold, following the single path to the center, spending time in the center, following the same pathway out the threshold and then responding to the experience.
If this is your first encounter with the labyrinth you may wonder, “What is the correct way for me to do this?” Relax! Pray on the labyrinth the way you like to pray in other places. Have a conversation with God about the things that matter most to you, offer words and gestures of praise, or present your prayer requests to Christ; there is no “right” way to pray just as there is no “right” way to pray the labyrinth! If you still aren’t sure how to get started, simply repeat, “Thy will be done” as you move on the labyrinth. Another simple way to pray the labyrinth is to pray for others on the way in, enjoy God’s presence in the center and pray for yourself as you move back towards the threshold.
The word “labyrinth” is not found in the Bible, but themes of a following God’s way, spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are found throughout Scripture. Two verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life, In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6).
We are currently in a period of historic labyrinth revival. Churches, retreat centers and Christian camps are placing these prayer tools inside and outside. Christians all over the world are installing labyrinths in their yards and gardens. Many are using the labyrinths as a ministry tool, bringing portable versions to prisons, national denominational conferences and church group meetings.
Many people are being drawn closer to Jesus, experiencing healing and gaining spiritual clarity as they pray on its path.

Walking the Labyrinth – a prayer
To your open mouth we come, pausing with expectancy. Posing questions, praying dreams, gath’ring courage, hope and faith, Circle, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Stepping in, the way is sure, Pacing comes in its own time. Breathing slows, awareness dawns, Trusting, longing fill our hearts. Pathway, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
In the center we are held, deeply knowing, deeply known. Healing, wholeness rising up, Wisdom, insight overflow. Center, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Back we go, the way we came, Weaving, winding in and out. Moving t’ward the world beyond, Op’ning hearts to needs perceiv’d. Pathway, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Once outside we gaze within, wond’ring at the peace we know. Spending moments filled with awe, taking leave with strength renewed. Circle, you hold life indeed. With thanksgiving we proceed.
Text: Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion ©1998